Upgrading Ben’s Black Bass

Bass is the bigger half-brother of the electric guitar. Thanks to (Sir) Paul McCartney, and later James Jamerrson, Jaco Pastorius and Ron Carter, I’ve always been very interested in the bass. I love the way it sounds, the deceptively simplicity of it’s technique, and the subtle but essential position it has in modern music. The only reason I don’t play it more is because guitar is usually more fun, but not always. So sometimes, more often recently, I reach for my friend’s old black Bill Lawrence bass.

It looks something like a Spector with brass hardware and a PJ pickup configuration, and plays well. However it doesn’t sound (or look) as good as the ash-bodied Fender PB-70 I bought last year so I could help my friend form a band, even after putting my favorite GHS flatwounds on it. I got rid of the PB70 when Ben unloaded his gear on me, and went back to Berlin. So one of my current projects is upgrading Ben’s black BL bass, now that I’ve made progress with some of the others.

Considering the name on the headstock, it’s surprising it doesn’t sound better, but the problem might just be that the pickups are not close enough to the strings. At least, that’s what the man himself would probably recommend first. Replacing pickups is expensive, and even if the pickups in this bass were not made buy BL, they a probably Gotoh pickups which are very good. So I’m going to get some spring-loaded pads soon to fix this issue.

However, after opening up the the control panel and seeing the massive control cavity underneath, I’ve been thinking that it would be a shame to waste all that space by not putting active electronics in there. This can also get very expensive if you want electronics made by Bartollini, EMG, Sadowsky or some other high-end cottage. If you don’t mind electronics made by Chinese teenagers, Artec makes a nice drop-in package  for about a fifth of the price.

Since I’m not really a bass player, this should be more than adequate for my needs, but the question remains, do I really need active tone controls in my bass? The argument I’m making to myself is that if the bass sounded better plugged in direct to a mixer, I would use it more. Plugging it into the Korg PX4, finding an appropriate preset and then tweaking it is pain in the ass. It’s the kind of thing that stops me from PLAYING the bass. But would you really play the bass more, Adam?

For about a week, definitely. Then what? Sell it? Sure. Upgrading it would definitely increase it’s appeal as another auction. This is the same dillema I’m having right now over a VOX VT20+. My Valbee is in pieces on my workbench where it will stay until I can complete testing of every component and circuit in the amp to get rid of the buzzing that makes it useless for home practice. So I need a new amp that I can PLAY, not just tinker with using a multitester and a soldering iron.

Actually, the VOX VT20 would be perfect for practice. I could store my settings, plug in headphones without an adapter or additional gear, and wouldn’t even have to bother plugging in my stop boxes. However, I could plug in my iPod which is something I can’t do with the Valbee. And if it the models do sound artificial and glitchy like the Korg Pandora’s REMS technology which they are probably based on, I can easily sell it, too. But the question again remains: will a new toy really inspire me to PLAY guitar, or just play with gear?




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